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Pattern Recognition

Pattern Recognition


How to tell if a blunt comment is just a mistake, or a harmful pattern.

This is Part 3 of a multi-part series on judgmental comments in the belly dance world. It can stand on its own, but it may make more sense if you listen to Part 2, 8 Red Flags first.

And if you want to start from the beginning, check out Walking on Eggshells.

Last week, we talked about how to identify the red flags that can help you tell judgmental comments from blunt but helpful feedback.

But when is a red flag just a mistake, and when does it point to a harmful pattern?

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Or Read the Transcript

This was professionally transcribed, but it probably still has some errors. If you catch any, drop me a line at I’d love to hear from you!

So last week we talked about the red flags that can help you distinguish between catty gossipy comments and useful feedback that’s just not expressed in the ideal way. To recap, the red flags were: A judgmental tone which might be obvious or it might be hidden in a sickly sweet concern; unsolicited feedback, feedback from an inappropriate source for an inappropriate audience; opinion presented as dogma, the speaker seeming invested in you agreeing with them; feedback that’s not constructive or praising one dancer to tear someone else down. Remember, that is especially suspect if YOU are the person receiving the praise.

So the question is once you see that there are red flags present, what do you do with that information? What you have to do is to identify the pattern and that can help you decide if the speaker has your best interests in mind or their own issues. So let’s say that you encounter one red flag or maybe two. That just might be a helpful and appropriate comment that’s just presented badly. For example, let’s say a friend of yours tells you that your arms look droopy. Now, that’s not really a constructive comment because it doesn’t give you any information on how to improve but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Your friend may just not be experienced enough to make constructive suggestions.

Now that comment is unsolicited which may be a red flag but that really depends on the relationship. Have you welcomed their input in the past? Have you asked for it? So in the absence of other red flags, those one or two issues may not really be a problem. This might be a perfectly appropriate thing for a friend to say to another friend. What you do in this case depends on whether that feedback was welcome, and this is the thing. We often feel like we’re obligated to take everyone’s opinion and change our dance because of that, but that is not true. You are not obligated to entertain unsolicited feedback from anybody but your teacher.

So the next step depends on your relationship with that person and whether you want her advice at all. You can thank her. You can smile and nod. You can ask her only to make comments when she has a constructive suggestion to include, or you can tell her that you are only taking feedback from your teacher right now. Any one of those is a perfectly reasonable response.

But if you’re finding more than two red flags, then that is probably a sign so you need to look for patterns in those flags and question the motives to the person who’s speaking. Let’s say that a prominent teacher in your area has some strong opinions. You often hear her saying things about other teachers’ students like, “I wish someone would tell her that that’s not how it’s done,” and she doesn’t seem to let up until everybody at the table nods and agrees.

There are a lot of red flags right there. There is nothing wrong with strong opinions but presenting them as rules is a different matter. This also wasn’t an appropriate audience for the comments. She was talking about this dancer behind her back. The condescending tone that the teacher used positions her as above the other dancer, not simply more experienced, and she’s pretty clearly seeking agreement from the people that she’s talking to. Those four red flags add up to a pattern. It looks like this person is criticizing others in order to prop up her own status in the dance community.

But let’s talk about another example that’s pretty similar. Let’s say you’re watching a show and you see a dancer wearing a revealing costume and it makes you really uncomfortable. You mention it to your teacher and she offers to talk to you privately about that later. So after your next class, she pulls you aside and explains that she also prefers a more covered looking costuming but explains to you that what’s appropriate depends on the venue, the audience, the dance style and the dancer’s own comfort level.

She helps you identify what it was about that particular costume that made you uncomfortable, and how to assess how much of that is your personal taste. She also helps you talk about what situations that particular costume would be appropriate in. Then she gives you some guidance to help you use that for your own dancing. She talks about how to choose costuming that will be comfortable for you and effective for different audiences and settings.

Now on the surface, you could say that there are a few red flags here. The teacher is talking behind somebody’s back but in this case it wasn’t unsolicited. You asked. Plus she was careful not to discuss it publicly. She took you to a private space to limit the impact of talking behind somebody’s back. It was from an appropriate source, your teacher, whose role is to guide you. She made her assessments in a non-judgmental tone. She made constructive comments to help you understand why it wasn’t effective and what you can do to make more appropriate choices, and she didn’t present her opinions and tastes as rules.

So even though it seems on the surface like there may be some red flags here, she was clearly making an effort to keep everything appropriate, constructive, kind and professional. It’s obvious that her motives here are to help you grow as a dancer, not to validate herself or build up her status in the dance community.

Here the pattern says that you should really take her suggestions to heart. That doesn’t mean that you need to agree with her opinions or follow her advice 100%, but because this is definitely coming from a good place from a person you trust, that you should consider her opinions as you form your own.

Another thing that I want to say is that we’ve been talking about judgmental comments on an interpersonal level but all of this also applies to the larger conversations that we have as a dance community. Let’s say that the community is discussing an important issue and you’re really glad that they’re bringing it up, but something about the process makes you feel uncomfortable. When you feel that discomfort like something is wrong, then that’s a great time to look out for red flags because the bigger issues that our community is wrestling with, especially these days, can be really uncomfortable and put you in a place where you question yourself and your own motives.

The thing is is that sitting with that discomfort and reflecting on your part in the issue is a really important and difficult part of this process. It’s hard to make major change and right wrongs without having that difficult and painful reflection. But when a discussion is taking an unhealthy turn, then it’s not going to be productive, and so you need to be able to decide how to engage. When is it time to remove yourself from the discussion, or how can you help it get onto a more constructive path?

Paying attention to the red flags and identifying the patterns can help you decide is this healthy discomfort or is the mob about to get the pitchforks?

Let’s summarize what we talked about. One or two red flags may just be a sign that you’ve received some useful feedback that could be better presented, but more than two is a bad sign. In either situation, look for patterns and use them to gauge the motives of the speaker. Is this someone who’s trying to provide you with help that you’ve asked for? Or does the pattern paint a picture of someone who’s trying to gain status or validate themselves and their choices, and are hiding it behind a façade of being helpful?

Remember that even when the comments are perfectly appropriate, you are never obliged to listen to unsolicited feedback. It’s okay to say I’m not taking feedback right now or I’m only looking for feedback from my teacher, or if you want, just smile and nod and let it go. You don’t owe anyone an explanation or apology although it is nice to let your teacher know what your priorities are.

Remember that this applies not only to interpersonal interactions but also larger community discussions. When you’re uncomfortable with a tough discussion, look for the patterns. They can help you determine whether something is healthy productive reflection or if you’re picking up on signs of mob behavior.

In our next episode, we’re going to talk about how to mine feedback for things that will actually improve your dancing and fit your priorities, regardless of whether that feedback was constructive or inappropriate.


Your Turn

Have you ever been unsure if red flags were adding up to a pattern?

How did you resolve that (or did you)?

Got a question or topic that you’d like me to talk about on the show?

I would love to hear from you.

Leave a comment below, or better yet, leave me a short voice message. Maybe I’ll even play it on the air!


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The challenge starts this Friday, November 3rd, 2017, so sign up now to make sure you don’t miss it.

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